A credible challenge to the supremacy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a long time to arrive. When it finally does arrive, it may not be from the existing pool of leaders. Here's why.
Most leaders, and many analysts, still interpret the massive victories of the BJP with Modi in the lead in terms of bland numbers. Thus, we have people explaining that a Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance could have been a winning combination in Uttar Pradesh the way the JD(U)-RJD alliance's victory in Bihar was. After all, didn't the combined vote share of the SP, the BSP and the Congress go beyond 50 percent, a comfortable 10 percent ahead of the BJP's? Now, there's talk of a grand alliance to stop the BJP's victory march in 2019.
The idea revolves around not allowing non-BJP votes to get divided. This itself is an acknowledgement of the invincibility of the BJP under the existing arrangement of parties in the polity. It also signals the beginning of the end of individual identities of the parties. The big risk in such an alliance is it might drive all non-core voters of parties in the opposite direction, to the BJP. We haven't even started talking about the question of leadership, the problem of a joint agenda and the matter of coordination that the alliance would need to address before the general election.
What is missing in the numbers approach? It's the poor understanding of the voters. Something has changed drastically at the level of the common people. They have started looking beyond the old equations of caste, community, identity and disprivilege and are less inclined to mix these up with their voting behaviour. They want freshness from leaders in the form of messaging. The old approach simply does not wash with the young generation of voters. The practitioners of old school politics simply fail to grasp the change.
Political rivals have been slamming Modi for his polarising influence, but they ignore the fact he has been consistently brilliant at messaging. The fact that he manages to polarise people should not be seen as a negative. Rather, it is a tribute to his ability to build an argument against his rivals and carry it convincingly to voters. The issue of demonetisation is a case in point. There's no point denying that it did not cause inconvenience to people and caused job losses in several sectors. In many ways, it was a godsend for the opposition just before the assembly election. But it was Modi who ended up collecting electoral brownie points from the issue.
The non-BJP parties in Uttar Pradesh have failed to capture the irony of their own existence. Parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the BSP do not stand for the wider social movements they represented earlier — the former is reduced to the Yadav identity from a much broader OBC movement and the latter to Jatav identity from a wider Dalit movement. The Congress stopped becoming a people's movement ever since it turned family-centric. All these parties have stopped being alluring to people outside their core. The BJP's success lies in mobilising those outside the core in its favour. Thus we hear of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits voting in large numbers for the party.
In what should be cause of concern for these parties, even the core is showing signs of disintegrating. The current crop of non-BJP leaders, particularly the second generation ones, are simply incapable of fathoming the extent of the drift and its reasons. It shows in their campaign language, the lack of flexibility with which they approach caste and communal equations and the foolishness in the way they have been attacking Modi. Their focus on numbers reveals the fact that they still fail to acknowledge the fact that he has been addressing a different voter, an evolved one.
So long as they stick to numbers, it will be advantage Modi. The weak talent pool in the opposition space ensures that he will have no challengers in near future.
Updated Date: Mar 17, 2017 15:59 PM